Apparently photographers themselves can't quite be trusted...but their cameras can be.
The global news agency Reuters, which was purchased in 2008 by Thomson Corporation, is based in London and employs several thousand journalists, whose work ethics are governed by the famous Reuters Handbook of Journalism.
Perhaps that's not enough? This week Reuters sent notice to its photographers that it has stopped accepting photographs that started out as raw files of any type. Only original camera JPEG files are to be submitted, "with minimal processing (cropping, correcting levels, etc)."
"According to Reuters," writes Sebastian Anthony on arstechnica, "there are two reasons for this move. First, there's the matter of alacrity: RAW images need to be processed by the photographer, which takes time—and when you're reporting on a breaking story, sometimes you don't have time. The second reason is much more contentious: Reuters wants its photographs to closely reflect reality (i.e. be journalistic), and it's concerned that some RAW photos are being processed to the point where they're no longer real."
There might be one more reason...because cameras have advanced technically so much that camera-native JPEG files are good enough. Perhaps it's just no longer necessary to mess with the raw files. Just within the last year or two, it seems to me, I've encountered, for the first time, photographers claiming that even when carefully processing from raw in standalone conversion software they can't quite match the results of the camera's own JPEG engine. The common speculation there is that the manufacturers know best what their sensors capture and therefore, how best to design the conversion to JPEG.
Yet another possible consideration...I know that for some time, research has continued on ways to detect, just based on a file, whether an image has been manipulated. I'm purely speculating, but perhaps we're at or getting close to the time when news organizations will be able to protect themselves by analyzing image files to make sure nothing in them has been faked. Perhaps this is easier to do on camera-native JPEG files? Just a thought. I don't know much about all that.
My position has always been that the camera (and, by extension, any image file) can "mislead." Just as false or poorly-chosen words can mislead. And just as you need to trust a witnessing journalist to write honestly, you need to trust a witnessing photojournalist to be honest as well. If there's a problem with manipulation in either case, it's not the technology that's to blame—it's the journalistic ethics of the reporter. Good news photographers are journalists, and tell the truth in conformance to the ethics of standard journalistic practices.
But what do I know.
So were dpreview and Ken Rockwell were right after all? (Didn't both used to analyze only JPEGs from tested cameras? Not sure what the policy of either is now.)
Is the flexibility of those raw files really just too fatally tempting for news photographers?
(Once again, though, I feel glad to be an amateur "art photographer" with only myself to please.)
(Thanks to John Hogg and others)
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
John Camp: "Reuters commonly buys photos from freelance photographers in conflict areas, which I consider questionable at best and in many cases immoral. Many of these people have immediate concerns that are much deeper than 'first world' problems with journalistic ethics, like the fact that they may operating in a sea of armed ideological crazies or that they may be so impoverished that any photo sale may be the difference between their family eating and not eating—hence the problem with biased or manipulated photos, and the reason that some of these guys take chances that border on the insane. (Or, they're so inexperienced that they simply don't know what they are doing, and get killed as a result.) As a matter of fact, I think the same applies to writing journalists, as well, although they don't need to physically expose themselves as photographers do. Limiting purchases to in-camera JPEGs doesn't really change any of that—it just gives Reuters another little hanky with which to cover their graver sins."
Joe Kashi: "Over the past several years, various academic researchers have been developing forensic software that can detect cloning and other covert manipulation by examining the unique noise patterns, etc. within image files produced by individual sensors. I would speculate that Reuters may have some version of comparable forensic software and in-camera JPEG files are required to produce valid results. Raw processing could blur the noise pattern and render any validity test less reliable."
Dennis: "One of the things that occurs to me when reading about this is dynamic range. The amount of dynamic range a camera can capture varies according to the ISO setting (technically, with the amount of light that hits the sensor, but the two go hand in hand). Even a newer FF camera like the Nikon D4s at ISO 6400 has similar DR to my Nikon D7000 at ISO 1600, which is considerably less than either camera at base ISO. If you shoot an indoor sporting event with uneven lighting, or a stage event, your shadow detail and highlight detail can vary with your shutter speed. Speed it up to freeze action and you bump up the ISO and lose dynamic range. And somehow, what the camera 'sees' is more 'real' than a photographer's interpretation?
"I've submitted photos to our local small town weekly over the years including many of concerts and plays at our local school. At high ISO, the contrast of the uneven stage lighting is magnified, and some kids are whited out like ghosts or others are in deep shadow; either way, it looks nothing like what our eyes can see. So I play with curves or dodge and burn to get a more realistic looking photo.
"Could this be done with JPEGs? It would certainly be better with a newer FF camera, though I often shoot at 200mm on APS-C, so would run into problems there (I'd have to crop or buy a 300 and then I wouldn't be at ƒ/2.8 any more). There might be JPEG processing options that preserve highlight and shadow detail better (I can't do multi-shot HDRs) but I've never been interested enough to experiment with the various menu options. I just have no interest in not shooting raw...just like some people have no interest in driving a car with an automatic transmission. If I were freelancing for Reuters, I'd just suck it up, but that's one of the joys of being an amateur...no reason not to do whatever I want."
Ron (partial comment): "Where I think this Reuters directive is aimed is precisely at improving image delivery times. Photographers can sometimes be their own worst enemies, wanting to endlessly tweak images to conform to their 'vision.' This can waste a lot of time, which I know from both being on the sending side shooting deadline sports events, and on the receiving side working in a newspaper imaging department (before it was automated). Many a time have I hounded a photographer to upload images from an event to meet deadline...."
[For the full text of partial comments, please see the Comments Section. —Ed.]
Roy Feldman: "I shoot press and always deliver JPEG but usually derived from raw. I have never had a image I didn't tweak a little always following the 'only what you could do in a darkroom' rule. I find it to be as fast a process as shooting JPEG. I have been a expert witness for the FBI and made the point that a raw image cannot be altered. You can alter it and save it as something else but you cannot change the raw image it self and re-save it as a raw. The real advantage I see going forth is being able to transmit and upload via cell phone wirelessly. For one paper I work for I use the Wi-Fi transfer on the Fuji to my phone to the mothership."
Ed. G.: "I think this is going to wind up biting Reuters in the butt. It seems to me that most of the photo-manipulation scandals have been proven only by asking the photographer for the raw file—either the comparison shows what was done or the miscreant runs away. Now, if there's a possible problem, Reuters can't ask for a raw file anymore. ('Sorry, since you don't allow processed raws, I shoot JPEG only, so the JPEG I sent in is the only photo that exists.') A smart organization would require raw (or raw+JPEG) shooting. ('You cannot submit photos unless you have a raw file you can give us in case of a dispute.')"
Gary Nylander: "I'm a staff photographer for a small daily newspaper. I always shoot JPEG for pretty well all assignments on a daily basis. Once in a while I might shoot raw for some special project. The JPEG quality I get from my cameras is exceptional, even from the 2007-era Nikon D300 I shoot with, one of my favourite digital cameras for PJ work. If were ever to shoot for Rueters it would not be a problem."
Adrian Malloch: "Yeah I got that Reuters memo too, but since it arrived in the text of an email, I could not possibly trust its veracity. We all know how infinitely flexible word-processing algorithms are and how words and meanings can be twisted so easily by ingenious and unscrupulous writers when using such devious gadgetry. If instead they had sent me a letter crafted on the standard office-issue Royal Quiet Deluxe Portable typewriter then I would know that it really was a Reuters document that could be believed."
Mike replies: Hee hee....
Ben Rosengart: "If you're interested in ensuring that an image is unmodified out-of-camera, it's dead simple: have the camera sign the image cryptographically, and verify the signature. The photographer doesn't have the camera's secret key, and therefore can't re-sign the image after modifying it. Canon markets this by including the signing tech for free, and charging for a 'verification kit,' but that's just an implementation detail."